This is the second of three in our series on the state of Christian Higher Education as presented by Dr. David Dockery
Christian higher education seeks to help students learn to think well and to think Christianly. And in noting these two points, I want to say that they must be both emphasized together. Making this observation recognizes that it is possible to be quite thoughtful without being Christian, and that it is possible to be a Christ follower without being thoughtful. Christian higher education attempts to bring together these two spheres. What is challenging is to love God with our minds in vigorous and vital ways, without failing to love God with our hearts, while also loving others. I believe, however, that such an integrated approach to life and thought is precisely what is needed at this time in the work of Christian higher education, in the church, and in the culture.
When I suggest that Christian thinking is at the heart of the work of Christian higher education, it does not mean that one only thinks about Christian matters. The way one thinks, however, should be thoroughly shaped by Christian teaching as well as by the pattern of Christian truth. Such thinking is foundational for shaping a Christian worldview, which will encourage the exploration of a wide, complex, and diverse range of topics.
Such exploration implies more than being a serious-thinking person about life in general, even among persons who claim to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Christian higher education seeks to prepare women and men to think in light of a worldview framework, developing an intentional way to process ideas, issues, and information, learning to think in a Christian manner on a consistent basis.
The Influence of the Great Commandment
Christian higher education desires to encourage students to love God with their hearts, souls, and minds (Mt. 22:37-39). Learning to love God with our minds or learning to think in Christian categories will help to shape the way we think about all aspects of life and learning. To shape Christian higher education according to a Christian worldview means that Christian educators will seek to think differently about the way we live and love, the way we worship and serve, the way we work to earn our livelihood, and the way we learn and teach.
Christian worldview thinking involves the renewal of the mind by God’s Spirit (Romans 12:1-2), for such thinking is shaped by God’s revelation to us as we contemplate God and His creation. In doing so, we recall Augustine’s model of faith seeking understanding, acknowledging that whenever we find truth, it is the Lord’s, even as Christian educators struggle with issues and carry on debate in pursuit of truth. In doing so, we are reminded of the admonition from the apostle Paul to “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Co. 10:5).
A serious commitment to Christian worldview thinking and to the renewing of minds involves authentic exploration and genuine intellectual struggle while wrestling with the culture-shaping ideas of the past and the issues of the present. Christian educators are called to guide their students in understanding and interpreting God’s truth as it has been made known in both creation and redemption and enabled by God’s Spirit.
Impact on Teaching and Learning
The challenges facing Christian colleges and universities cannot be neutralized simply by adding newer facilities, better campus-ministry opportunities, and improved student-life programs, as important as these things may be. Our 21st century context must once again recognize the importance of serious Christian worldview thinking both necessary and appropriate. For the well-being of Christian academic institutions such worldview thinking serves as a guide to truth, to that which is imaginatively compelling, emotionally engaging, aesthetically enhancing, and personally liberating.
I believe that the Christian faith, informed by scriptural interpretation, theology, philosophy, and history, has bearing on every subject and academic discipline. While at times the Christian’s research in any field might follow similar paths and methods as the secularist, doxology at both the beginning and ending of one’s teaching and research marks the works of Christian educators from their secular counterparts.
The pursuit of the greater glory of God remains rooted in a Christian worldview in which God can be encountered in the search for truth in every discipline. The application of this pursuit will encourage members of Christian college and university communities to see their teaching, research, study, student formation, administrative service, and trustee governance within the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faculty, staff, and students will work together to enhance a love for learning that encourages a life of worship and service. Christian worldview thinking informed by the Christian intellectual tradition enables all of us better see the relationship between the Christian faith and the role of reason, while encouraging Christian educators and students to seek truth and engage the culture, with a view toward strengthening the church and extending the kingdom of God.
This vision helps us understand that there is a place for music and the arts because God is the God of creation and beauty. We recognize that the social sciences can make observations to strengthen society, families, and religious structures by recognizing the presence of the image of God in all men and women. Those who study economics can help address problems facing communities and society at large, as well as expand our awareness of how wealth is produced and good stewardship for it to be used. Political-philosophy scholars can strategize about ways to address issues of government, public policy, war, justice, and peace. Ethical challenges in business, education, and healthcare can be illuminated by reflection on such serious Christian thinking.
Exploring every discipline from a confessional perspective – which affirms that “we believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”- will both shape and sharpen our focus. The more we emphasize the distinctive vision for Christian higher education, the more important will its role become for teaching, learning, research, and scholarship. This proposal is rooted in the conviction that God, the source of all truth, has revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ (John 1:14,18).
What is now needed for the future of Christian higher education is a renewed understanding and appreciation to the church’s historic confession of the Trinitarian God and a recognition that subject matter is fully and truly understandable only in relation to this Trinitarian God. While this approach to higher education values and prioritizes the life of the mind, it is also a holistic call for the engagement of head, heart, and hands. I pray for God’s favor and blessings to rest on our shared efforts to advance distinctive Christian education faithfully informed by a Christian worldview, in the days to come.
David S. Dockery is the 15th president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dockery, the author or editor of 30 books, formerly served for almost two decades as president of Union University.
Click below to read the other two articles in this series.
[Key aspects of this article have been adopted from David S. Dockery,” “Christian Higher Education: An Introduction” in Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition, edited by David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan (Wheaton: Crossway, forthcoming 2018) 11-25; also, David S. Dockery, “Christian Worldview, the Great Commandment, and the Christian Life,” in CBS Worldview Study Bible, edited by David S. Dockery and Trevin Wax (Nashville: Holman, 2018), 1181-1182.]
Image: Tiu.edu. Used with Permission
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